‘I’m a nerd and I like to have an outlet for nerdery!’: An Interview with Dustin from Starset

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Starset are one of the most intriguing bands to come from the American music scene in recent years, with their cinematic epic rock sound and mysterious origins. The band claim to be an offshoot of the secretive Starset Society, a group dedicated to spreading a cryptic message, the contents of which are yet to be revealed. The Edge recently sat down for a chat with Starset frontman Dustin Bates, to learn a bit more about his enigmatic band and his love for science, among other things.

When did the band get started, and could you tell me a bit more about the debut album?

The project started a little over 2 years ago. I wrote and recorded the record based on an overall sci-fi narrative I had, which tells the story of manipulated technology at the hands of the few and a message that’s sent back from the future warning us of it. There’s a thread running through it about a character named Thomas Bell and his life. I really based the record on that, and tried to give it a cinematic sound, so it sort of sounds like a rock band did the soundtrack to a sci-fi movie, and we have novel coming out that will explain everything in greater detail. But on top of all that I did try to make the songs a bit more relatable as well, so it’s something people can relate to in their lives, rather than it just being about technology and space!

There’s a bit of everything in that album really, to get that ‘rock band sound tracking a sci-fi blockbuster’ sound. We recorded with a 4 piece string quartet, which you can hear throughout, and there’s also some Nine Inch Nails-style electronic parts in there. There’s a lot of layers in there, a lot of ear candy! [laughs]

Would you like to make a film of the album?

We’ve already written multiple music videos that you could definitely call our little ‘filmlets’! It was always part of the plan for this project to have these really cinematic mini movies to fit with the music. But, that being said, once we get the novel out, there may be a chance for a full movie.

You were originally taking a PhD in electrical engineering, what made you decide to go into music?

I was always into music, as long as I can remember. I think what started it was Phil Collins of all things! My mom was always a huge Phil Collins fan, and hearing him all the time led me into playing drums, which led me into rock, and it all went from there.  I was in a party rock band while I was working on my undergraduate degree, and then while I was working on my masters I got a record deal with Epic Records, but that all fell through, so I started my PhD and then Starset came along. So the music and science have been running in tandem this whole time, really!

On the band’s social media sites there are various debates between fans about whether or not the Starset Society is real, or just a marketing gimmick. What would you say to your fans about that?

It is real, the degree to what it’s real is to be decided, but it’s definitely real and the questions that are being raised are certainly real. I think when the novel comes out that will explain everything a bit more clearly. Yeah, all this is yet to be determined, but I think that once people read the novel they’ll know.

Once we divulge more information, people will have way more to talk about, we’re just scratching the surface of the narrative right now. We should release the full message this year, but I don’t know exactly when.

Can you say a bit more about what’s going to be in the novel?

Yeah, if you listen to the record, and look at the comic book and websites, you’ll see that there’s multiple time lines and elements going from the near future way back to the 1900s and it’s all tied into the message that’s sent back from the future. In the novel, you see that the message went to multiple timelines and affected our current future and there are multiple groups at play, there’s the USCOO and there’s the Starset Society, and in the future, there are other groups as well. The novel explains how they all interplay and how technology affects the society they live in.

From the outset this project was intended to be truly multimedia. There are other bands in the past that have used other media alongside their music to create a narrative, but for this project, the narrative comes first. It’s at the centre of everything, and the band, the novel, the comic book and the little filmlets are all under the narrative. It was natural to have a band and a novel, as they hit different demographics. We know that 90% of people with just listen to the music on the surface, and we’re fine with that too, but if 10% really get into it, that’s cool!

What’s you ultimate goal for the band?

Lots of drugs and sex! [laughs]Just kidding! Seriously though, the ultimate goal is basically the opposite of that. We want to push rock music further away from that. Right now, in the US, rock’s very Neanderthal-ish, and we want to do something different to that and to continue to reinvest money into our show so that it’s cool and immersive. I’m a nerd and I like to have an outlet for nerdery! Okay, I may have made that word up. [laughs]

So, what’s coming up for you guys next then?

We have the novel coming out, and there’ll probably be some new music, but not a whole album, because I really like to take my time writing those, and I haven’t properly started yet, so it’s going to be awhile! And we’d love to come back and tour here again as soon as possible, even as an opening band. It’s been such a great introduction and now we can build on it, and that’s great.

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